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Smith, Koskinen vying to be starting goalie for Oilers in Cup Qualifier

Take part in 'friendly, competitive battle' entering series against Blackhawks

by Derek Van Diest / Independent Correspondent

EDMONTON -- Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen are taking their goaltending competition from the regular season into the Stanley Cup Qualifiers for the Edmonton Oilers.

Coach Dave Tippett rotated the two goalies before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, and both are vying to start against the Chicago Blackhawks beginning Aug. 1 in one of four best-of-5 series to be held at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city.

"We have a great deal of confidence in both guys," Tippett said Saturday. "As camp goes on we'll continue to monitor where they're each at. They've both looked really good so far, but we'll continue to monitor things. We'll talk to (goaltending coach) Dustin Schwartz, we'll talk to the players and we'll see how it goes."

Smith was 19-12-6 with a 2.95 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage in 39 games (37 starts) in his first season with the Oilers after signing as an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2019. He played for Tippett with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes from 2011-17 and helped the Coyotes reach the Western Conference Final in 2012. Koskinen was 18-13-3 with a 2.75 GAA and a .917 save percentage in 38 games (34 starts) this season, his second with Edmonton.

Smith has played in 24 Stanley Cup Playoff games, starting 22, including all five for Calgary last season when it lost in five games to the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference First Round. He is 11-12 with a 2.17 GAA and a .938 save percentage in the playoffs. Koskinen has yet to play in an NHL playoff game.

"I think both guys want to play," Smith said. "I'm preparing like I'm going to start Game 1, and I think Mikko is doing the same thing. We've had that mentality all season long, and I think it's made for a great, friendly, competitive battle in net, and I think it's a big reason why this team has had success this year with both guys being able to play and contribute to the team's winning."

The Oilers (37-25-9, .585 points percentage) enter the Qualifiers as the No. 5 seed in the conference; the Blackhawks (32-30-8, .514) are the No. 12 seed. The winner of the series will advance to the playoffs, and the loser will have a chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, to be held Aug. 10.

"This is a totally different situation that has never happened before," Koskinen said. "I haven't really thought about [starting Game 1]. There are so many things going on around here, and I'm just trying to do my best and enjoy it."

Smith said, "I think don't think there's been a long stretch this season where either guy hasn't played well. And when one guy hasn't played well, the other guy picked him up. So I think it's been a great new friendship for me and a great goalie partner with Mikko, and I think he's been an awesome guy to play and compete with."

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